Too many sweets spoil the murder . . .
Harvest, Ohio, is a long way from New York City, where Bailey King left a coveted job as a head chocolatier to take over Swissmen Sweets, her Amish grandparents’ candy shop. Now, while caring for her recently widowed grandmother, she plans to honor her grandfather’s memory by entering the annual Amish Confectionery Competition. But between lavender blueberry fudge and chocolate cherry ganache truffles, Bailey may have bitten off more than she can chew when the search for a missing pot-bellied pig turns up a body suffering from sugar overload—the fatal kind . . .
A candy maker from a neighboring town who wanted Englischer Bailey disqualified for being an outsider, Josephine Weaver died from an allergy to an essential licorice ingredient. The suspects include: Josephine’s niece, a young woman going through her rumspringa, or running around time, and Bailey herself. Now it falls to Bailey, who’s sweet on the local sheriff’s deputy, to clear their names and entice a killer with a cast-iron stomach for cold-blooded murder . . .
About the Author
Amanda Flower, an Agatha Award–winning mystery author, started her writing career in elementary school when she read a story she wrote to her sixth grade class and had the class in stitches with her description of being stuck on the top of a Ferris wheel. She knew at that moment she’d found her calling of making people laugh with her words. She also writes mysteries as USA Today bestselling author Isabella Alan. In addition to being an author, Amanda is a librarian in Northeast Ohio. Readers can visit her online at www.amandaflower.com.
Read an Excerpt
When the pig went missing, I knew there would be trouble.
"Bailey, honey?" Juliet Brody asked me in her sweet southern drawl. "Have you seen Jethro?"
I looked up from the snack-sized bags of homemade black licorice I was stacking in one corner of Swissmen Sweets' competition table. The licorice was my entry in the first round of the Amish Confectionery Competition, which was like the NBA playoffs, but with way more sugar. No modern cooking implements or methods that included electricity were allowed in the competition since some Amish districts didn't allow their use even for business.
Everything had to be done the Amish way, which meant slow and deliberate. I'd thought I was up for the challenge of making candy using the Amish methods, but I was learning that it was much more difficult than I'd realized. It couldn't be more different from how I'd learned to make chocolates and candies as Jean Pierre Ruge's protégé for six years at JP Chocolates, a high-end chocolate shop in Midtown Manhattan.
"Jethro?" I glanced up and down the row of competition tables. There were fifteen tables in all, with Amish candy makers from as far away was Wisconsin and Florida there to compete. Just like mine, every table was cafeteria length, and behind each was a cooking station with an oven and stove that ran on propane. A white awning covered each space.
At the table next to mine, an Amish woman removed the candy thermometer from the boiling pot on her stove top and poured the sugary liquid into waiting candy molds.
If Jethro had been there, I was sure I would have seen him. He tended to stand out. There was no sign of the black and white polka-dotted potbellied pig.
"No, I haven't seen him all morning." I tucked a lock of dark brown hair behind my ear. "Is he running loose at the competition? I doubt the judges would like that. I wouldn't let Margot know he's unattended on the square if I were you."
Margot Rawlings was the village chairwoman as well as the English judge for the contest, and she was determined to make sure everything went perfectly for the Amish Confectionery Competition, also known as the ACC. Every year, the competition was held in a different Amish town. The towns had to audition to snag the competition, and every Amish Country community wanted it because the event was a big tourist draw. It was quite an accomplishment for a village as tiny as Harvest to host the ACC, especially in Ohio's Amish Country, where there were so many better-known Amish communities like Charm, Berlin, and Sugarcreek. Margot had campaigned hard and won the hosting spot for Harvest almost single-handedly, from what I'd heard. She wouldn't let anything mess up Harvest's time in the spotlight as the ACC's host town. That included Jethro the pig.
Juliet wrung her small, pale hands together. "I just don't know where he could have run off to. It's so unlike him. He rarely leaves my side."
That was debatable. "How long has he been gone?" I dropped another bag of licorice on the pile on the table.
She swallowed. "I don't know exactly. I was helping some of the competitors set up their spots, and that took several hours. You would not believe the amount of stuff that some of these people have brought for the competition."
I glanced back at my stack of crates, filled to the brim with candy-making supplies, pots, pans, and utensils. "I can guess how much."
Juliet pursed her lips. "There was so much to do that I didn't notice Jethro was gone until we were done." She clasped her hands together more tightly. "I thought he was there the entire time while I was working. The last time I saw him, he was standing in the shade under one of the bushes in front of the church. When I was ready to leave and went to collect him, he was gone."
I glanced at the large white church on the other side of Church Street at the opposite end of the square. It was midday, and the October sun shone down on it like an orange pumpkin ripening on one of the many pumpkin patches scattered around the county.
"I'm sure he's here somewhere. Maybe the crowd spooked him. None of us are used to having this many people in town," I said.
Because of the ACC, the village had had a rapid influx of people. There were fifteen Amish candy makers in the competition, and as a rule, the Amish didn't travel alone. Many of the competitors had brought their entire families to Harvest to watch them compete. In the Amish world, that could be as many as twenty additional people per competitor. Those numbers didn't even include all the spectators, both Amish and English, who'd come to Harvest to watch the two-day event. I guessed there were a couple thousand tourists.
"What if someone took him?" Juliet's voice caught, and her Carolina accent became more pronounced. "How will I ever know who did it in this crush of people?"
I stepped around the side of my table and gave her hug. "No one took Jethro. I'm sure he's just hiding somewhere to get away from all the commotion. Why don't we —"
"There she is!" A shrill voice shouted over the din created by all the visitors and candy makers packed onto the square. "I demand that you do something about this!"
I let go of Juliet to see a petite Amish woman in a plain navy dress, black apron, and white prayer cap stomping toward me. Her hair was parted in the middle and coiled into a bun at the nape of her neck in the Amish style. The woman was rail thin and couldn't have been more than five feet tall. Despite her small stature, the crowd parted to let her pass like storybook villagers would for a dragon on a raid. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if she breathed fire just like a dragon. She would be the world's tiniest dragon, but that didn't lessen my chances of being burned, and I knew that was just what Josephine Weaver wanted to do. She wanted to burn me out of the competition.
Jeremiah Beiler, the Amish judge and organizer of the ACC, lumbered behind Josephine. He was a large round man who was three times the size of Josephine but not nearly as fierce, even though he sported a luxurious Amish beard. If I had to choose between Josephine and Jeremiah to contend with, the big teddy bear of a man would always win.
Margot Rawlings was a few steps behind Jeremiah. Her short curls bounced on the top of her head as she made her way across the village green in Josephine's wake. She looked just as irritated as the Amish woman, but I wasn't sure if it was with me, Josephine, or both of us. Knowing Margot, it was both, and probably every other person on planet earth. She wasn't picky when it came to be being annoyed with people.
When Josephine was within three feet of where I stood with Juliet, she pulled up short and pointed at me. "She should be disqualified. She's not Amish!"
I looked down at my outfit. Purple suede ankle boots, designer jeans from my life back in NYC, and a pink and purple flannel shirt under a white apron. To complete the outfit, I wore multicolored feather earrings that hung down an inch from the bottom of my earlobes. There was no one in the world who would believe I was Amish.
Jeremiah folded his arms across his ample stomach. "Now, Josephine, we have been over this already. Bailey can compete in the ACC in her late grandfather, Jebidiah King's, place. Jebidiah's candy shop was accepted into the contest months ago."
Josephine's lips curved into a sneer. "If a contestant dies, I see no reason to allow his relatives to compete, especially if those relatives have turned their backs on the Amish way and become Englisch."
I balled my hands at my sides. My grandfather had died a few short weeks ago, and the loss was still too raw for me to take such a comment lightly. "I haven't fallen away from the Amish. I've never been Amish." My words were sharper than I would have liked them to be, but I made no apology.
The tiny woman sniffed. "All the more reason to expel you from the competition. You cannot possibly understand our ways."
"Please, please," Margot said, looking around. "Keep your voices down. There is no reason to cause such an uproar. You will disturb the tourists."
"They should be disturbed. They came a long way to see the ACC, and there is an imposter in the competition," Josephine snapped.
"Josephine," Jeremiah said as he inched away from her. I wondered if he was moving out of smacking range. The Amish weren't prone to violence, but I wouldn't put it past Josephine to raise her fists. Jeremiah, now a good two feet away from the angry Amish woman, said, "The board has made its decision, and it's too late to change it now."
"How are we Amish to fairly compete if we have to deal with a cheating Englischer?" Josephine wanted to know.
"I'm not cheating. I'm making the candies using the same equipment as the rest of you." Now, I was really becoming annoyed.
"Clara King should be the one taking her husband's place in this competition, not you." Josephine placed her hands on her narrow hips. "At least she is Amish!"
"Don't bring my grandmother into this," I snapped.
Maami was back at Swissmen Sweets, minding the shop. Business would be brisk with all the tourists in Harvest for the ACC, but it certainly would be much quieter than it was on the square. Quiet was what my grandmother craved. Right after my grandfather had died, she had been a pillar of strength, going about her life in the same orderly way she always had, but as the weeks after his death had gone by, she had became quieter, withdrawn, as if she finally realized that her husband was gone, never to return.
Clara and Jebidiah King had truly been lifelong companions. Although they didn't grow up in the same Amish district, she and my daadi had known each other since birth because their family farms had been on the same rural road. My grandfather said it was love at first sight. As a young child, I would argue that point with him. I told him that babies can't fall in love. He would say, "Sure they can. You fell in love with me when you were a baby." I would protest and tell him that was different because he was my daadi. Boy-girl love was different. He would shake his head and say, "The soul knows when it's found its match, no matter the age." I didn't buy that at eight. I wasn't sure if I bought it at twenty-seven either, especially considering my own romantic record; maybe my soul was just as confused as the rest of me.
Juliet, who had been silent up to this point, said, "Could it be, Josephine, that you want Swissmen Sweets to be removed from the competition because they just might beat you?" Her voice was as sweet as molasses.
I winced. Even I knew that was not the best counter-argument to use with Josephine Weaver.
Josephine dropped her hands from her tiny hips. "How can you say such a thing, Juliet Brody? I just want to have a fair and safe competition of Amish candy makers. My shop, Berlin Candies, has a rightful place in the competition because I am Amish, and everyone who works for me is Amish. We do everything the Amish way. Unlike Swissmen Sweets. There have been rumors about the worldly recipes that have been showing up at Swissmen Sweets."
Worldly recipes, really? I wanted to ask her what she meant by that exactly, but I thought better of it and held my tongue. It was true that since I took over Swissmen Sweets, I had added a few new flavors to some of the traditionally Amish candies and sweets that we sold. I'd added lavender blueberry fudge, chocolate cherry ganache truffles, and more. Even if I was going to live in Amish Country, I couldn't leave my life's work as a chocolatier behind. I had worked too hard for too long mastering my craft to let it wither and die.
Margot put a hand on Josephine's arm. "Let's go to the concessions and get you some tea, Josephine. I think it will calm you down nicely."
Across the square, there was an Amish-run concessions booth selling tea, coffee, and hot apple cider to tourists. With the chill in the October air, the line ran all the way to the gazebo in the middle of the square. Amish teenagers filled plain white paper cups with hot drinks as quickly as they could pour them.
Josephine wrenched her arm away from Margot. "I do not need to be calmed down."
"What we sell at Swissmen Sweets doesn't have anything to do with what I'm entering in the ACC," I said.
"Doesn't it?" Josephine's eyes narrowed. "Shouldn't this competition be for Amish confectioneries? If yours is no longer an Amish candy shop, that's more reason than ever to disqualify you, and I'm going to make it my mission to do just that."
"Is that a threat?" I asked.
She lifted her pointy chin. "The Amish don't make threats. We make promises."
Sounded like the same thing to me, I thought, as Josephine stomped away with Jeremiah and Margot in her wake.
When Josephine Weaver said she would have me removed from the competition, I assumed she wasn't bluffing. Most of the Amish I knew were true to their word. I watched as she stomped around the large white gazebo in the middle of the square and disappeared from sight.
At the edge of the square, a teenage Amish girl with curly strawberry- blond hair that was barely contained under her white prayer cap, caught my eye. She stared at the spot from which Josephine had disappeared and wrapped her shawl more closely around her body as if she felt some sort of chill. Maybe a hot drink like Margot had suggested would do her good too. She then ducked her head and ran across the village square in the direction of First Church, the large white church that was on the opposite side of the square from Swissmen Sweets.
"What are we going to do about Jethro?" Juliet wrung her hands and pulled my attention away from the girl. "I hate to be a bother. I know you have so much to do for the competition."
"I'm in a good spot. The licorice for the first round is done, and the judging doesn't happen for another hour. Emily will be over in a few minutes to help me with the next round, which is taffy. It's always good to have a second person on hand when making taffy."
Emily Esh was the sister of Esther Esh, who owned Esh Family Pretzels, which was right next to Swissmen Sweets. Both shops sat on the other side of Main Street directly across from the square gazebo. They had the most sought-after locations in Harvest.
Since I had officially taken over Swissmen Sweets, I had hired Emily from time to time to help out in the shop. This weekend, I had asked her if she could be my assistant at the ACC, and she readily agreed. Emily was always looking for an excuse to escape the pretzel shop and her older sister's judgment.
Esther and their older brother, Abel, allowed Emily to help me to an extent. I knew the extra money helped the family of three young, unmarried siblings. However, I suspected Esther and maybe even Abel would like to limit Emily's time with me. Maybe they thought I would corrupt her with my big-city English ways.
"I just don't know what I'll do if something happens to Jethro." Juliet sounded as if she was on the verge of tears.
"I'll help you look for him," I said quickly before she could break down. "I'll start looking around the church. Meanwhile, why don't you take a lap around the square and ask people if they have seen him. He's pretty distinctive-looking; people would remember if they saw a polka-dotted pig. We'll meet in front of the church in fifteen minutes."
She clasped my hands in both of hers. "Oh, thank you, Bailey. Thank you so much. I'm so glad that you moved here, not just for my son, but for the entire community. You're such a blessing."
I internally groaned when Juliet mentioned her son. I had not moved to Harvest, Ohio, for her son. Somehow Juliet had gotten it into her mind that he and I were destined for each other. I won't lie and say that I didn't find her son, Aiden Brody, appealing. He was the very handsome sheriff's deputy and had close ties to my family. After Juliet and Aiden moved to Harvest when Aiden was just a child, my grandparents gave them a place to live until they were on their own two feet. The Brodys had remained friends with my grandparents ever since. Despite the family history and the fact that I found Aiden almost painfully attractive, we were just friends, regardless of the plans his mother and my grandmother might have for our future.
Before I left the booth, I tidied it the best I could so it would be ready for the licorice judging.
By the time I finished, Juliet was already speaking to the third candy maker in the row, asking him if he had seen Jethro.
"You're looking for a polka-dotted pig?" the man asked in a thick Pennsylvania Dutch accent.
Excerpted from "Lethal Licorice"
Copyright © 2018 Amanda Flower.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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